Alicia’s Story

Site created on August 16, 2018

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Journal entry by Alicia Zigay

I don't think I ever mentioned this to anyone prior to or during chemotherapy, but one of the many things I used to worry about was that I might have a parasite and that the chemo would kill it.

Sounds good, right? Nah. I've made peace with how gross life is, and put away most of my anxiety about germs during my microbiology studies, but this thought just kept bothering me.

Parasites are great at hiding from the immune system. I've just made the assumption, for years now, that everyone has,or  will have, at least one parasite they don't know about during their life time.

But, when parasites who can hide from the immune system die, well, they can no longer hide their bodies and the immune system goes haywire. Completely over reacts. It can cause something similar to anaphylaxis.

Now to be fair, my body was being poisoned alongside any cancer cells or parasites and my immune system was being simultaneously killed. So, I just kind of looked at it the same way I did at skydiving; I'm either going to die or I'm not, struggling now won't change that, and I had them plug in the tubes to my veins. If I had one if those parasites, I'm next door to the hospital at least and they have antihistamines on tap for adverse reactions which should at least slow a cascade reaction of my currently functional immune system. 

On an interesting note, some parasitic infections (nematodes, schistisomes...etc) are treated using chemo drugs or antimalarials.

But, I didn't remember any of that at the time, and didn't review it until just now.

I didn't read any material I didn't have to once I was finally diagnosed. I had already spent 4+ months telling the docs I had cancer even though I was asymptomatic, I was certain in June after the first ultrasound. The technician and I both knew it but danced around it. I just didn't want to do more. I was tired and afraid that if I started reading I'd only frighten myself. My hypochondria as a teen was very bad, no need to kick-start old habits.

I would read information on the next upcoming procedure. Confirmed what a doctor told me by checking for citations, but I never looked at statistics or drug mechanisms. I didn't want to question and think unless I had to.

Interestingly, I stopped thinking about my own mortality almost entirely once I had a firm diagnosis. And I don't think it was because I thought I would survive. It's because I had a road map. If I do these things I will have a likelihood of a good outcome. Like a cake recipe. That's all I went in with; Just like skydiving (that and Kelly's assurances - but he watched his mother die of cancer so I suspect some of that was also to convince himself as well).

P.S. If you're interested in parasites, there is an excellent podcast called 'This Week in Parasitism'. There's another for Virology and Microbiology. I recall there being an excellent episode on Dracunculus medinensis a few years back. Almost entirely eradicated due to the closure of step wells (water must be drawn up now instead of stepping down into the well). We still have no idea how the worms find a.mate in the human host OR how they knew when a host was near water so they could burst out of the foot. 

But, that "snake" around the rod used to indicate medicine? The Rod of Asclepius? Yeah, pretty sure that's not a snake and is in fact a parasitic worm. To draw them out, people used to wrap the protruding noodle around a thin rod then wrap until there was tension, stop and wait until the beast released it's hold, wrap to create more tension, repeat until the whole worm is out (no tearing or the dead worm body inside the leg could cause an immune response like I mentioned above).
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